Running Club F.C., Volume 7: Irene Woods, Greenfield

  • Greenfield’s Irene Woods of The Children's Advocacy Center of Franklin County and North Quabbin on Wisdom Way in Greenfield stands among the 124 pinwheels spinning in the wind that she erected. Each pinwheel represents a child that was interviewed last year at the center. Woods, a long-time runner, helped start the CAC’s Race to End Child Abuse 5K, which will have its 4th annual edition in September. Staff FILE Photo/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 4/21/2020 5:25:20 PM

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Irene Woods, Greenfield

Irene Woods’ ability to mesh her passions together is better than most.

That blending has led to the creation of many memorable moments throughout Franklin County and beyond.

The long-time Greenfield resident has been a trailblazer in the running community for decades, dating back to her days involved in the Women’s Distance Festival Road Race in Amherst. A well-known event that features similar races throughout the country, it was an all-women’s 5K — the name rather ironic given that there was no festival included, and it was not a “distance” event.

Woods eventually decided to take her show on the road, up to Franklin County. After attending a workshop led by Katherine Switzer, the very first female to run the Boston Marathon with a number in 1967, Woods approached her friends at Baystate Franklin Medical Center, and the Spirit of Women’s Road Race was born.

“Seeing Kathleen Switzer speak, that really motivated us to bring an all-women’s race closer to where we lived,” said Woods.

For the past two decades, Woods has been a guiding light in the Franklin County running community. That has continued in her most recent road racing endeavor — the Race to End Child Abuse 5K.

Woods became the Executive Director at the Children’s Advocacy Center of Franklin County four years ago. The organization, which lists its mission as “preventing and ending child abuse in our community by providing education, safety, healing and justice,” was looking to get its name out there, and a race seemed like a good way to do just that.

“The people on my board thought it could be a good fundraiser. I know that races can’t really be good fundraisers unless you have great sponsors, so it’s been a way to promote what we do, what we’re about,” explained Woods. “We really started this out just for people to know what we do at the (CAC).”

The inaugural event took place in 2017, and Woods said about 25 people showed up. The event has grown considerably, and its fourth annual 5K is set to take place on Sept. 20.

“For us, the best part is a lot of the kids who use our services come back and run our race,” said Woods. “They feel comfortable, which is great. Some people have turned it into team fundraisers. We’ve added a superhero theme. Kids can’t sometimes run from child abuse and superheroes can run for them. So people come out in costume, and it’s great to see everyone excited about it.”

The race was able to use the Franklin County Fairgrounds for the first time at last year’s race, something that Woods said was a nice bonus and will again be the case this year. The race starts at the Fairgrounds and finishes at the Children’s Advocacy Center on Wisdom Way.

Running has long been a part of Woods’ life. She said she didn’t get into the sport until around the time she turned 30, though she has indeed made up for lost time. All told, she’s run 19 marathons, including several international events in locales such as Turkey, Greece and China.

“I just love running,” she began. “It’s definitely a good escape. I think I like it because you’re just running for yourself. And the thing about marathons is, my favorite part anyway, is that you feel like you’re in over your head at points but you just have to get back. I’m happy to say I’ve never dropped out of any race.”

Woods said she’s run the Boston Marathon twice, with her best time clocking in around 4 hours, 20 minutes.

“They all make you cry at the end, at least for me,” she said with a laugh. “It’s very time consuming to train for a marathon and it’s so much work. But when you get to the end, it’s such a release. Boston was definitely special.”

Since delving into the running community as a competitor herself, Woods has also been an advocate for using road races as a social tool. When she first got involved with the festival in Amherst, she said the importance lied in the fact that the race was benefiting women.

“It just seemed like a way to allow women to go out and run and not feel like they had to compete against men,” she explained. “Women had struggles getting into races back then, and categories and different divisions weren’t always a part of races.”

Woods worked for the Department of Children and Families for many years, and also for the New England Learning Center for Women in Transition (NELCWIT) — the latter which sponsored women’s races in the early 2000s.

“I’ve been a social worker just about all of my life,” she said. “And running, to me, has been something that can benefit everyone. Just put your shoes on, open the door and go. It doesn’t cost a lot of money, and you can do it anywhere. Just to watch people progress and get better, it’s been great to have that in my life.”

As for her current running regimen, Woods said she has dealt with injuries in recent times, but thanks to the help of Liz Dolby at the Body Shoppe, she’s currently back out there. Her next race is set for this weekend, when she’ll take part in the 10th Annual Big Brothers Big Sisters Daffodil Run/Walk, which is being run virtually this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.


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